South Florida officials mourn Shirley Gibson, the founding Mayor of Miami Gardens

Shirley Gibson FB
Gibson led Florida’s most populous Black-majority city in its early years from 2003 to 2012.

Shirley Gibson, the founding Mayor of Miami Gardens, died Monday at 79. She left behind a legacy of accomplishment in South Florida, evidenced by an outpouring of mournful but admiring statements from many current and former elected officials.

A former Miami-Dade Police officer, Gibson led Florida’s most populous Black-majority city in its early years, from its 2003 founding to 2012, when she reached term limits.

She took part in two efforts to incorporate Miami Gardens. The first failed due in large part to opposition from billionaire Wayne Huizenga, then the owner of the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, who mounted a $100,000 campaign to stop the city from forming.

Gibson and other incorporation proponents tried again seven years later and succeeded.

The Miami Herald confirmed her passing Tuesday, less than five months after the city celebrated its 20th anniversary. Shortly after, public officials in and outside of South Florida heaped praise on the late leader and the impact she made on her community.

“She worked tirelessly for the people as a dedicated public servant throughout her life, first keeping residents safe as a longtime law enforcement officer, and later helping build a community that we can all be proud of,” Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones said in a statement.

“She was a champion for small businesses, infrastructure, and put Miami Gardens on the map with premier cultural events like Jazz in the Gardens. Her vision, legacy, and contributions will continue to have impact and inspire for years to come. Rest in power, Madam Mayor.”

Miami Gardens Rep. Felicia Robinson, who served on the City Council under Gibson and the city’s second Mayor, Oliver Gilbert III, said Gibson’s presence on Earth truly made a difference.

“Her vision, hard work, and strength will keep her legacy going,” she said in a post to X that included photos of her and Gibson. “I know personally the impact she’s had on my life. I am grateful and thankful. Job well done and purpose fulfilled. Rest!”

Robinson elaborated on how Gibson changed the trajectory of her life in a post to Facebook.

“I know personally the impact she had on my life asking the questions, ‘Have you ever thought about running?’ Although my initial response was no, her leadership and my desire to do more has (led to my helping to build) a community and being engaged at the most impactful level. I will forever be grateful and thankful.”

North Miami Rep. Dottie Joseph called Gibson “a pioneer, and a loving mother and grandmother.”

“When she felt her community was not getting the resources it needed, this shero helped lead the charge to incorporate Miami Gardens, taking on Wayne Huizenga’s $100k opposition,” she said on X. “It took years, but it got done, and she was elected the first mayor.”

Miami Rep. Ashley Gantt offered her condolences to Gibson’s family and loved ones and lauded the late Mayor’s “grace, integrity, and leadership” as an “inspiration to all, especially little brown girls like me.”

“One thing I know to be true is that people will always remember how you treat them,” Gantt said. “I will never forget her gentle words of encouragement and kindness when I met her. It’s truly a special experience to feel like you’ve been wrapped in warmth by the expression of words and a gentle hand clasp. Thank you for your legacy and your service. Rest well, Mayor Gibson.”

Miami-Dade Commissioner Kionne McGhee said Gibson was a friend and “will be forever known as a true visionary and fighter for justice.”

Miami Gardens Mayor Rodney Harris, the city’s third Mayor, shared similar sentiments.

“It is with great sadness that I share condolences on behalf of the City of Miami Gardens, our residents, and myself, with the family of our founding mayor,” he said. “Mayor Shirley Gibson was a visionary who fought for the birth of this city, and governed as a true servant of the people.”

Miami Gardens Council member Shannon Campbell wrote on X, “My heart is broken. Pray for Shirley (Gibson’s) soul & family.” She later shared a photo she took with Gibson at a senior event in the city.

Miami Gardens Council member Linda Julien described Gibson as “a titan in Miami-Dade.”

“Today, because of her vision, we are Miami Gardens,” she said. “She was a champion for her community and her presence will be truly missed.”

Miami Gardens Council member Robert Stephens III thanked Gibson in a Facebook post for her public work.

“We honor her vision and commitment to creating a bold, thriving community of working class citizens,” he said. “Her strength and courage to bring to fruition a city we now call home is an accomplishment that will never go unnoticed.”

Miami Gardens Council member Katrina Wilson said Gibson was “a truly exceptional leader.”

“Shirley Gibson was a woman of remarkable tenacity, unwavering dedication, and boundless compassion,” she said.

“Her leadership, as Miami Gardens’ first mayor, demonstrated strength and vision, while her commitment to her community showcased her profound love for its people. She was a trailblazer who inspired others with her wisdom, grace and determination. Her journey has been an invaluable source of wisdom and inspiration for me, as I continue to learn from this remarkable woman’s legacy.”

Former state Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas, who is running for Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, called Gibson’s death “a tremendous loss for the community.”

“I was fortunate enough to meet her when she and I were on a panel at a law school symposium,” he said on Facebook. Remarkable woman who founded one of my favorite cities in Miami-Dade County. Rest in Power, Mayor Gibson!!”

Lisa Davis, a former Miami Gardens Vice Mayor, said on Facebook that Gibson “will always be the Icon for the City Of Miami Gardens.”

“Rest in Power!!!” she said. “Thank you for bringing this City Forward, you will be missed.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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